“The mood is very strong, very united and very focused. We know where our priorities are – the Premier League and the Champions League. We are in a strong position in the league and that is why we are positive right now.
“It was a disappointment on Tuesday, I cannot deny that, and we want to come back in a very strong way. But this is a big game for us in a completely different competition and we want to respond well.”
Arsène Wenger was philosophical and determined in equal measure after the defeat to Chelsea in midweek. It may have given the ‘I-told-you-so’s a little more support to their argument but the Arsenal manager has spent the first nine games playing down his side’s start to the season. So he was always going to be able to ride out a couple of defeats to some of the best teams in Europe.
Arsenal: Walcott (abdominal), Flamini (groin), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Sanogo (back), Podolski (hamstring), Diaby (knee)
Liverpool: Enrique (knee), Aspas (thigh), Coates (knee)
And given that Arsenal could well remain top with only a draw against Liverpool on Saturday, their position is hardly troublesome.
But at the same time, quite understandably, the focus is on Wenger’s men as they face their biggest week of the season so far – Liverpool (h) on Saturday, Dortmund (a) on Wednesday and Manchester United (a) on Sunday.
“Certainly, yes [it’s a big week] considering the quality of the opponents,” he said. “But we have a good opportunity on Saturday to make a difference and we want to take it. We play against Liverpool at home, it’s an exciting game but, as well, it’s of massive importance for us.”
Brendan Rodgers’ side have been perhaps the surprise of the season so far. Last term, they finished 28 points adrift of title winners Manchester United and 12 away from a Champions League spot. But, this term, the Irishman had honed his 3-5-2 formation into a highly effective unit even before Luis Suarez came back from his suspension to add a glut of spectacular goals. The Uruguayan has six goals in four Premier League appearances while his strike partner Daniel Sturridge has been a consistent contributor with a single goal in eight of his nine league games.
“One of the targets of our game is to keep these two players quiet because they are certainly among the top strikers in the Premier League,” said Wenger.
“I’m convinced that Sturridge has exceptional talent. He can be creative, make goals for himself, dribble and finish well.”
Both sides have had profitable 2013s. The win against Palace means Arsenal already have as many victories this year as they did in 2012. Meanwhile Liverpool are undefeated in 16 of their last 17 Premier League games.
“In his first year Brendan Rodgers had ups and downs,” said Wenger. “But you could still feel he had a style of play that he wants to push through. He manages that in a more consistent way now and the results have been positive.
“It is important that you find a system that suits the quality of your players and it looks like they’ve done that.
“Also I think every team who has consistent results has a settled team and they found that. I’m sure that once you can guess 90 per cent of the team that plays against you it means that your opponent has found a team.
“We know they have quality, up front they are very dangerous and they stabilised defensively so I always expected them to be one of the possible surprise teams.”
You sense both sides need to convince a wider, and more sceptical, footballing world than they can challenge for the title over the long-term. A win on Saturday, as we break the 10-game barrier that separates “starting form” from “season’s form”, would be a huge psychological boost.
Wenger, however, will need greater persuasion.
“It is still too early,” he said. “What we want first is to convince everybody that we can play at the top and hopefully, in April, we can ask ourselves if we have enough resources to cross the line.”
The tape seems a lifetime away right now. The next eight days will be arduous enough. Arsenal go into their biggest week of their season so far top of both the Premier League and Champions League Group F.
If they are still there next Monday then many more will be convinced about the credentials of Arsène Wenger’s side.